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Week 39: Jesse Kretzer Graham

I don’t know who said it, but I read this quote online: “I like weird things. Weird may not always be good but it’s always different.” That statement sums up perfectly the beginning of my hike with Jesse Kretzer Grahm, my companion for the 39th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail.” On a crystal-clear morning, the coolest since April, Jesse and I climbed out of my red Subaru Outback at the trailhead. Immediately Jessie said, “Something died!” My sense of smell was a little slower to react but soon we were both gagging! And then we saw it! It was so bizarre…there next to my car, right at waist level, dangled a deer leg from the shrubbery! EWWW…and super gross! We hypothesized the deer had been hit crossing the road for we saw the rest of the poor mutilated creature a few feet away. Let me just say, we were VERY cautious as we crossed Route 77 heading north on the A.T. toward Pennsylvania!

Once on the other side of the road, we paused to take in the majesty of the day. The sky was bluer than blue and the field of goldenrod, waving in the breeze, looked like shimmering candles on a birthday cake. As I stood next to Jessie contemplating the changes in the field since January, I was suddenly aware of time marching on. We all know that flowers bloom and fade, that seasons come and go, and nothing stays the same. But it is a special privilege to bear witness to this process and the miracle of nature with a different woman each week. It is my hope that women everywhere embrace the inevitability of change and celebrate each season of their own lives.

Speaking of life’s seasons, Jesse and I knew each other as young mothers, when almost 30 years ago our sons played soccer together. A few months ago we reconnected at a hair salon, of all places! As we hiked down the trail with the sun filtering through the thinning leaves, it was fun to hear all about Jesse’s sons, Derrick and Brett. They are both talented musicians and members of a progressive Bluegrass band called the Plate Scrapers. The band, which is known for its eclectic style, embraces funk, rock, and jazz as it explores a diversity of sounds. Jesse, who is very proud of their musical accomplishments, loves listening to their albums and attending their gigs.

Hiking toward the lichen-covered rock wall, I asked Jesse about her husband. With a sense of sadness and acceptance, Jesse told me that they divorced after 30 years of marriage. Despite unending prayer and years of counseling with the goal of saving her marriage, she had an epiphany: “I realized God would be with me if I stayed and God would be with me if I left.” When I asked what she had learned from this painful chapter of your life, Jesse replied, “It is more painful to live together without love than to live alone.”

I told Jesse that Janice Green, author of Divorce After 50, who had been a guest on Prime Time for Women’s Navigating Change Series, said, “Divorce seems to be more difficult on adult children than on young children.” Jesse nodded knowingly and shared that she clearly remembers her sons saying to her, “We never saw you fight but we never saw you love either.” It was painful for Jesse to hear this from her adult children, but she validated their experience. Jesse never thought she would remarry but after being single for six years, she met the “love of her life” and married him last year. Jesse said, “My husband and I are very happy together and now my sons get to see me love and be loved.” As Jesse struck the “strong woman” pose I thought of the courage it takes to leave the known to explore the unknown. Her vulnerability, honesty and resilience made her strong during a difficult time and sustain her now in her joy.

After crossing the powerline field, we ran into Shower Beer and Pointer, two thru hikers who started in Maine on June 25th. Jesse loved talking with them because her son Brett is super into long-distance hiking. They exchanged Instagram accounts with the hope that Jesse’s son will be able to connect with them when they hike through the mountains of Virginia.

Heading toward the stream at Warner Hollow, we saw very few wildflowers along the trail. Even the mushrooms, which have been glorious the past few weeks, seemed to be far and few between. However, the yellow leaves littering the trail and the rotting bear corn provided some lovely color and texture to our path. Once at the stream, the tinkling sound of the rushing water led to an interesting conversation. Jesse asked me if I knew what a Shewee was. For the uninitiated, you will be as grateful as I was to learn about this handy dandy device that enables females to pee standing up while clothed! Who knew! I’ve quite a few “peeing in the woods gone wrong” stories (which I will spare you, here) but, as you may have guessed, I’ve already purchased mine through Amazon.com! After the high of learning about the Shewee, I came back to earth unexpectedly fast. In fact, I crashed…literally and figuratively. Trying to take a photo of Jesse on the planks across the stream, I lost my footing. My right foot slipped into the cold rushing water as I scraped my shin on the sharp edge of slime-covered rock! OUCH! I didn’t cry but I did say a few choice words under my breath &*%$*! Despite my boo-boo, I managed to get some good pictures of Jesse. And believe it or not, as we hiked back up the hill, the gash on my shin and my squishy sock didn’t bother me at all as I was completely absorbed in our conversation.

Jesse, an Arbonne consultant for 16 years, takes health and fitness seriously. She is an avid pickleball player and is used to walking for miles on a sandy beach, so the climb up the hill presented little trouble. As we walked, Jesse told me about a bike accident she had 25 years ago that resulted in terrible trauma to her face and mouth. The injuries required 24 hours of dental procedures and 12 different reconstructive surgeries. “How,” I asked, “did you stand the pain?” Jesse explained that the psychological trauma of being disfigured was more painful than the physical injuries. Then she went on to say, “It’s true what they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Obviously, Jesse is one of those women who simply doesn’t do self-pity. She believes God used the pain in her life to make her stronger. I thought perhaps we should go back and get another picture of Jesse striking the strong woman pose!

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